LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:
It's called honor killing - taking the life of your child, sibling, or spouse in the belief you are protecting the family against shame or disgrace. The United Nations says it happens about 5,000 times a year. Most of the victims are women from the Middle East and South Asia. It rarely happens here in the United States. But last year a 25-year-old woman from Pakistan was strangled to death at her home near Atlanta, and her father is charged with her murder. A pretrial hearing gets under way in Jonesboro, Georgia, and that's where NPR's Jamie Tarabay went to find out more.
WERTHEIMER: This is old Jonesboro. Railroad tracks go through town up here. To the left's Confederate Cemetery.
JAMIE TARABAY: Detective Mike Christian has lived in this pocket of the Atlanta suburbs all his life.
WERTHEIMER: Supposedly Tara - the big plantation from "Gone with the Wind" - this is where it was located.
TARABAY: Past the cemetery where the flag still flies, Christian pulls into a quiet street with tidy brick-front two-story homes.
WERTHEIMER: This is it, 9816. They've got a "for sale" sign in the yard. The window to her bedroom is open.
TARABAY: It was past 1 a.m. on July 6 when police got several 911 calls connected to that house. The first was from a man who told police, my daughter's dead. Then at 1:55 a.m....
U: Clayton County, 911.
TARABAY: This call from a woman named Gina Rashid, worried about her stepdaughter Sandeela.
WERTHEIMER: I heard a lot of hollering and screaming. And I just woke up and I asked my family what's going on. They're from Pakistan. They're not speaking English to me. They're not telling me nothing. (Unintelligible) Sandeela's dead. Sandeela's dead.
TARABAY: Sandeela Kanwal was the 25-year-old daughter of Chaudry Rashid. Christian said when police arrived at the house, they found the 57-year-old pizza shop owner sitting cross-legged in his driveway, smoking a cigarette.
WERTHEIMER: They talked to him for a minute, asked him what was going on. He said, my daughter is dead. They asked him again what he had said, and he said, my daughter is dead.
TARABAY: Police found Kanwal dead on the floor of her bedroom, still in her Wal-Mart uniform. She'd been working the late shift that night. As they surveyed the scene, police tried to fathom what had happened. Rashid was taken into custody and then questioned by police.
S: He admitted to actually taking the life of his daughter.
TARABAY: Sergeant Stefan Schindler is a 13-year police veteran.
S: And the reason that he took his daughter's life, by his own words, was that she was not being true to her religion or to her husband.
TARABAY: Police believe Rashid killed his daughter because she wanted a divorce and said that would have brought shame on his family. Schindler says Rashid told him it was a right given to him by God, and that God would protect him. To police, in other words, this was an honor killing.
S: Since my career's begun here at the Clayton County Police Department, I've never encountered anything like this. This was the first time.
TARABAY: Schindler says Rashid told police he strangled his daughter with a bungee cord, which he later burned and flushed down the toilet. Police were unable to find it. And that's just one of the many holes in this case, says Rashid's lawyer, Alan Begner.
WERTHEIMER: No one saw what happened. There was no one - there are no witnesses to it. There is said to be a confession, but there was no interpreter there, although an interpreter was on a speakerphone, they say.
TARABAY: Schindler sat in on the interview. He says Rashid was read and understood his rights. But Begner questions its validity.
WERTHEIMER: And it's not clear to me Mr. Rashid understood that by giving a statement it might be held against him.
TARABAY: Rashid remains in jail after he was refused bail. He's charged with murder and other felonies, including assault. When he first appeared in court, Chaudry Rashid said through an interpreter that he hadn't done anything wrong. That made the news. The words "Muslim honor killing" were everywhere. It was unfamiliar territory for the police, says Detective Mike Christian.
WERTHEIMER: Here in Georgia - this is going to make me sound uneducated or like a backwoods cracker - but we don't have that many dealings, we don't have that many Muslims. We don't have that much diversity down here - at least that I'm aware of.
TARABAY: It sent a ripple through this swath of Bible-belt country.
WERTHEIMER: For me and my upbringing and just - nothing in your life prepares you for that.
TARABAY: In some honor killings overseas, family members have killed women who've been raped because they're considered to have brought shame on their families. For Muslims in Atlanta, the unwanted attention was the last thing they needed.
WERTHEIMER: These things hurt the Muslim community. Not only Muslim community, Pakistani community, you know.
TARABAY: Shahid Malik is a local representative of Atlanta's Pakistani population and one of the very few willing to speak about the Rashid case. He says Sandeela Kanwal's killing has nothing to do with Islam, but that Rashid has little education and comes from a small village in Pakistan where tribal traditions are strong.
WERTHEIMER: I think in their mind - maybe if they use the name here honor killing, maybe they give less punishment. But that is wrong because law is changed. This is American law.
TARABAY: Malik says years ago Pakistan used to punish honor killings with only seven years' prison. Now, he says, the sentence is greater. But Rashid's lawyers don't want the notion of an honor killing associated with this case. Alan Begner again.
WERTHEIMER: Whatever this case is or is not, this is not an honor killing case. It is not based upon Pakistani law. Chaudry Rashid loved his daughter.
TARABAY: Begner hopes the state doesn't make this about Islam or ethnicity. This death could have happened, he says, in any culture, with any family. Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.
WERTHEIMER: For a list of countries where honor killings have been reported, go to our Web site, npr.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.